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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reasoning from Samples to Populations: Children Use Variability Information to Predict Novel Outcomes


The ability to infer general characteristics of populations from specific instances is critical for reasoning. While there is evidence of this capacity in infancy, prior work has not examined children’s ability to use these second-order inferences to make predictions about future outcomes. In the current study, 3-year-olds observed balls drawn at random from two containers. In one sample each ball was a different color. The other sample consisted of balls of only one (Experiment 1) or two (Experiment 2) colors. Children were asked which of the containers was more likely to contain a novel colored ball. A significant majority of children chose the more variable sample’s container. This suggests that 3-year-olds are not only able to make inferences about hidden populations from the variability of observed samples, but also use those inferences to reason beyond their direct experience.

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